For some people, Will Smith, no matter how many different genre defining roles he takes on, will always be the the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and I Am Legend is no exception. However, with a story steeped in as much pathos, drama, and overall action as I Am Legend, this is definitely the most serious role the clown prince of comedy has ever been a part of in the entirety of his career.
Will Smith is the kind of guy you would want to be the last remaining person on the face of the Earth with. He’s good looking, suave, and has the kind of personality that you think your mother would like if he was the only person you were left to spend the remainer of your days with. For that reason, it makes perfect sense why Will Smith was hand picked to portray Robert Neville, a brilliant virologist trapped in a world we’ve already seen twice before in The Last Man on Earth, and The Omega Man, which were the first two theatrical releases based on Richard Matheson’s masterful, 1954 novel, I Am Legend. Even so, that amicable personality that Will Smith so frequently portrays in all of his films, from Independence Day to The Pursuit of Happiness, just so happens to be the film’s greatest weakness, as we don’t so much feel like we’re running through the depths of Hell with Will, but rather, like we’re trailing the movie star’s coattails. His undeniable star power just makes him too much of an unbelievable character to really take seriously as the last living person on Earth.
In I Am Legend, Will Smith plays a lone survivor in a world stricken by a plague that has seemingly turned everybody and their mama into a mindless monster. These aren’t just any mindless monsters, though, as these creatures, or Dark Seekers as they’re called in the film, are quickly evolving into something much more than just flesh eating creatures of the night. It’s for that reason that Smith holes himself up in his house at night with his dog, Sam, and sneaks out in the early morning to capture these creatures for research, where he hasn’t been having much luck as of late.
The only problem is, from the very onset of the story, I found myself very disinterested in what was going on. Having read the book (and no, this isn’t just going to turn into a mindless diatribe comparing the book to the movie), I was a bit disappointed that the movie so loosely follows the intriguing narrative that Matheson laid out so well in his novel. For one, this current movie’s Dark Seekers are, if anything, ambiguous creatures (are they vampires? Ravenous zombies? What?), whereas the book stuck very closely to debunking some of the vampire’s most nagging and inconsistent myths. Also, Will Smith’s meandering walk to a video store throughout the film, where he sets up mannequins to talk to so he doesn’t go loony from lonlieness, seems kind of goofy when he starts questioning about whether today is going to be the day he’s going to ask one of the female mannequins out on a date. Honestly, it completely throws off the whole haunting mood that the film is trying so hard to portray.
Still, that doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t impress, as that’s far from the case. Being that this fairly quiet film was built to be a Blockbuster, besides a few patchy parts of overall cheesiness, expect to see monsters flying out of windows, Brooklyn bridges being destroyed, and a climax where literally hundreds of monsters are screaming for Neville’s head. It certainly makes for some pretty intense scenes that are sadly interspersed too few and far between moments of drama and horror, and that’s another problem I have with this picture—it doesn’t really seem to have its focus set on any particular genre.
Is it horror? Well, not really? How about drama? Well, sometimes, but it seems to merge into thriller territory a bit too often. Um, comedy? Honestly, sometimes, it actually is, making this Will Smith horror/drama/thriller/comedy/buddy (as in, his dog and him) film a movie in search of a genre. Luckily, Will Smith can blend all five genres together seamlessly, but at what cost? Apparently, at the cost of a movie that could have been a far more memorable experience if it just stuck to one of the aforementioned genres up above
The disc’s skimpy four animated comics (more on them in a minute) may seem like a rip-off at first, but a closer inspection on-line with the disc reveals a wealth of details and featurettes that would make any fan of the movie proud. The thing is, if you want to see that “controversial” alternate ending you’ve probably been hearing so much about in the commercial (And I’ll tell you this—I’ve seen it and it’s really not all that great), you’ll have to pick up the Special Edition, two disc set.
Even if you don’t pick up the two disc set, though, what you’ll find here in this Plain Jane 1 disc edition is nothing to scoff at. “Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend” is an intelligent look at the strains of actual, real-life viruses and how they sneak into their hosts and wreak havoc on them once they’ve made a home for themselves inside. Various medical doctors in the field are brought in to speak on their various areas of specialty, and it makes for some thoroughly entertaining facts that you kind of wish were presented more in the actual movie itself—but you can only expect so much from a Blockbuster costing so much money, I suppose.
In the “Creating I Am Legend” section of the special features, we’re treated to at least a whole hour’s worth of making of the film material, and how sections of New York like 5th Avenue were closed off completely to make such a visually arresting opening sequence in the movie. We’re also treated to a dissecting of the Robert Neville character, even though it didn’t really seem like there was much to dissect in the first place, as well as a seemingly decaying Richard Mattheson describing the differences between the movie and his seminal vampire novel.
Finally, there are those boring-as-rocks animated comics. Out of the four that are avaialbe, only one of them is actually worth watching. The purpose of them is to chronicle the overall decay of society and how it all came crashing down when the virus fully went around the world, but comics like “”Death as a Gift,” “Isolation,” and “Sacrificing the Few,” never really reach their mark of the true horror that has become of just being alive. “Shelter,” however, a tale of a father locking out his daughter from the rest of his family in a vault, is a truly terrifying tale of what would happen if one of your own has been infected by an incurable pathogen. It tragically ends as you’d expect, with nobody coming out the victor, and everybody ending up corpses. It makes you kind of wish the family in this single tale were the real characters in the eventual movie, as their story is much more heart rending and real than anything Will Smith could ever pull off on his lonesome.